GULFPORT -- The American Humanist Association is calling off a threatened lawsuit against Harrison County over a Nativity scene in the courthouse lobby because the county allowed an alternative display.
Just before lunch Tuesday, the county allowed the Mississippi Gulf Coast Humanist, Atheist and Freethinker Association to put up a sign at the location of its choosing. The group chose a spot next to the Nativity display county employees have put up for years.
The sign the humanists put up wishes everyone "Happy Holidays," says "Reason's Greetings" and includes a graphic showing the reason for the season is the tilt of the earth's axis.
"They're allowing the atheist sign and allowing an open forum, so we are calling off the lawsuit," said David Niose, legal director for the American Humanist Association. Niose said his group would prefer that there be no religious display.
Tim Holleman, attorney for the county Board of Supervisors, said his legal research indicates the county can keep the Nativity scene as long as it allows free expression of other views, hence permission for the Coast group to put up its sign.
"They actually were very nice and said all they wanted was the equal opportunity to put up a sign of their own," Holleman said.
"As long as we permit an open forum for all faith and non-faith groups to have their freedom of speech and exercise their freedom of religion, the government is not endorsing one view over the other. As long as we allow others to participate equally, I believe that's constitutional."
Sarah Worrel of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Humanist, Atheist and Freethinker Association said her group is a chapter of the American Humanist Association, which called and suggested the alternative display. She said she hoped the sign would ward off a lawsuit.
"Any type of sectarian, religious display, I don't think a courthouse is the proper place for it," Worrel said. "Because of church and state separation, I don't think the government should get involved with any type of religious display. There's plenty of places for that type of thing. Anybody could have it on private property or on business property, if they own a business."